Progressive PR Problems and the Blogger Who Caused Them

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Like so many dissatisfied customers, Matt Fisher took to blogging to air his problems with auto insurance company Progressive last Monday. Yet what has transpired over the last seven days has been a truly unique study in online brand management.

Just over a week ago, Fisher, a comedian by trade, published a blog entitled My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court. Fisher might make his living telling jokes, but based on that title, the subject on Fisher’s chest was no laughing matter. Back in June 2010, Fisher’s sister was killed in a car accident in Baltimore when, according to the blog post, the other driver ran a red light and crashed into his sister’s car. For the last two years, Fisher and his family have battled to get the financial settlement they say Progressive owed his sister. Progressive said they refused to pay out the policy because they didn’t have evidence the accident wasn’t her fault — and even paid the legal representation for the other driver.

Tired of courtroom back and forth, Fisher blogged and opened a branding and PR nightmare. The company’s Facebook page was flooded by angry customers and the television media was quick to side with the Fishers, too. Progressive finally caved and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the family after the social media backlash late on Thursday.

But some wonder if the damage can be undone. As of yesterday morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that some 1,000 Twitter users and Progressive customers claim to have dumped the insurance company based on Fisher’s story. Social media, while certainly amusing, is no joke and Progressive has learned this the hard way. Fisher’s blog and the subsequent social media outrage have made this story stay around and even gain steam, regardless of the settlement. The smiley, happy veneer of spokeswoman Flo suddenly seems hollow and a brand that promises to protect its customers appears untrustworthy. These are big problems for Progressive that a few tweets and press releases might not fix right away.

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